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The history of yoga

More than just flexible poses

by Gretchen Neal/Editor-in-Chief

Photo by Elizabeth Schaub

Photo by Elizabeth Schaub

Many college students have been exposed to the westernized form of yoga. Yoga is used in western societies as an exercise or sport – a way to become more flexible, calm or fit. Most people at least have an inkling of the Hindu origin of yoga, but chances are even those people might appreciate some clarification.

According to the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), the practice of yoga dates all the way back to more than 5,000 years ago, and is still practiced as a religious compartment to Hinduism in many Hindu communities. The word “yoga” is derived from “yuj,” which means to unite. The practice focuses on both spiritual and physical aspects. In Hinduism, the goal of yoga is to achieve “moksha,” or the state of being free of worldly suffering, HAF says.

According to Katie White, of “The Muse,” there are eight “limbs” of yoga and some important terms that should be brought to the attention of those who practice yoga as a casual sport. “Hatha,” for example, is the term used when yoga focuses on balance or any physical form. “Vinyasa” is the term used when all movements are connected to breathing. “Namaste,” a greeting commonly misused in western culture, means “the spirit in me salutes the spirit within you” when roughly translated. Each limb of yoga is representative of some important aspect to the practice. The limbs include the yamas (representative of restraint), nyamas (representative of observation), pranayamas (representative of breathing), pratyahara (representative of withdrawing the senses), dharana (representative of focus) and Samadhi (the yoga state).

Westernized yoga tends to focus only on one “limb” of yoga: the “asana,” or posture or pose property of the exercise. Westernized yoga also tends to be disassociated with the Hinduism it stems from. Whether someone practices yoga for the religious aspects of it or for the benefits of staying fit and relaxed, this is a sport with a backstory.


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